Solomon's fifth piece of wisdom in this chapter is that we must not let pride get the better of us by allowing ourselves to reject correction from a person we know has experience in a difficulty we are going through (Ecclesiastes 7:5-6). If we fail to humble ourselves in such a case, we will likely later regret passing off the correction as nothing more than arrogant interference. That can be a major misjudgment, as Proverbs 11:2 bluntly reminds us, “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.”
A sixth piece of Solomonic sagacity appears in Ecclesiastes 7:8, where he reminds us not to let impatience defeat us. When a trial is resolved, we will be glad we stuck with it. Impatience is a restlessness of mind that can easily become anxiety-ridden. It rises when we want to put an irksome and perhaps dangerous task behind us. Peace departs and the quality of our involvement in the situation dwindles. We so easily become frustrated and angry when things seem stacked against us. Some trials must be endured for long periods, often the case in relationship problems. Thus, Proverbs 11:12 cautions, “He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace.”
A seventh nugget of sound advice: Do not look back, bemoaning one's commitment to God's way of life (Ecclesiastes 7:9-10). Solomon directly states that is not wisdom. Wisdom is to keep plowing forward as one's best defense. Jesus says in Luke 9:62, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” He adds in Mark 4:17 that some called ones have no root in themselves and so endure only for a while, and when tribulation and persecution arise they stumble. We must continue forward, though it is difficult at times, because it will pay off handsomely in the end.
A final item of wisdom appears in Ecclesiastes 7:13-14: We should never allow ourselves to lose sight of God. Paul promises in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” God—the same God who gives us days of prosperity—remains with us during adversity. In adversity, even though it appears dark and perhaps never-ending, He calls on us to use our faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fourteen): A Summary
Proverbs 8:1-11, 32-36 provides an understandable overview of the importance of wisdom, spelling out why it is superior to wealth:
Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors: to you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. O you simple ones, understand prudence, and you fools, be of an understanding heart. Listen, for I will speak of excellent things, and from the opening of my lips will come right things; for my mouth will speak truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are with righteousness; nothing crooked or perverse is in them. They are all plain to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her. . . .
Now therefore, listen to me, my children, for blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death.
Jesus teaches in Matthew 13:22, “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” Wealth has a way of deceiving a person. Anyone is susceptible. When a person is poor, he can be deceived into imagining that, if he were rich, he would be happy. When he is rich, he deludes himself that, if he were only richer, he would be content.
The problem is not the wealth. The problem is in the heart because of what we have been taught by our culture about wealth's protective capacity. That belief is often a delusion, since the common understanding regarding wealth is not from God. This delusion really has no end because human nature, without God's help, is insatiable. In contrast, godly wisdom is perfectly balanced and feeds the heart with the right thoughts.
There is no doubt that people of sufficient wealth use it to protect themselves from much of the unpleasantness of life in the world. They tend to eat more nutritious food, which often costs more. They may be careful where they shop; they may make their homes into virtual fortresses; they may travel about only at certain times; they may not make an ostentatious display of their wealth, but they may surround themselves with guards for protection. Wealth is indeed a symbol of strength.
The last statement in Ecclesiastes 7:12 says that “wisdom gives life to those who have it.” What a gift! At this point, its superiority over wealth becomes very apparent. Wealth can shelter a person from certain classes of physical evils, but it can do nothing against the far more formidable and dangerous spiritual and moral evils that endanger the continuation of life.
Wealth may even promote involvement in the temptations of moral evil. It cannot protect one from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life, which may open the door to destroying the person's life. Wealth cannot purchase entrance into the Kingdom of God. God's wisdom arms His people against those foes of eternal life. God-given wisdom can motivate an individual to give himself to God in humble submission. Conversely, wealth may prove an obstacle because it opens a door to spending it for one's own pleasures.
Wisdom is a greater strength because this kind of wisdom is a gift from the Creator, who expects it be used spiritually to enhance the relationship with Him through prayer, study, obedience, and service. If one cooperates by living by faith, God adds what we as individuals lack by giving more gifts. He can even defend us from illness, which money cannot. Can money protect one from the satanic spirits responsible for the moral breakdowns of life? In times like these, if we are living within God-given wisdom, we have the greatest, strongest, and only reliable defense available.
Wisdom gives life. In contrast, Proverbs 8:36 declares starkly, “Those who hate wisdom love death.”
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense
Solomon is comparing two powers that offer their possessors the ability to defend themselves against many of the vicissitudes of life. On the one hand is money and on the other, wisdom. Money can help one avoid and even preserve a person from many of life's difficulties. Wisdom, however, can give him something no amount of money can—life. Wisdom produces things material possessions cannot because it is insurance against willful self-destruction, whether physical or spiritual.
Consider in verse 13 literally means "to see." It counsels us to understand that some situations cannot be rectified. No amount of money or wisdom will prevent them from occurring. We can do nothing about them because circumstances are beyond our powers, and we should not fret overmuch about them. An obvious example is the impossibility of a person being able to stop wars, floods, riots, or a hurricane. Each of these can bring devastation and a great deal of personal pain that may be entirely unavoidable. All one can do in such a case is to deal with the aftereffects as wisely as possible.
Verse 14 carries on the thought, counseling us that good and bad times occur in everybody's life. There will be situations that are seemingly unjust, such as the righteous seeming not to be prospered, becoming diseased and dying young, while the evil are prospered with wealth, good health, and long, comfortable lives. These things occur in every culture on earth. We are to consider—to see—that God overrules all and is well aware of what is happening. He may even be directly involved in causing the kinds of circumstances that upset our sense of fairness (Isaiah 45:7). We must never allow our thoughts to wander from the reality of the depths of God's involvement in governing His creation.
The passage concludes by drawing our attention to the future. It is beyond our abilities to know precisely what is going to happen. How long will our present trial last? Will we be drawn into another? Are we pleasing God? Will we be prospered to a greater level? When will Christ come? Solomon is not saying we should not think about the future, but that we will never know precisely what is coming. Thus, we should not be overly concerned about it. We must live our belief that God is on His throne, which allows us to be emotionally stable.
Solomon does not begin to give an answer to the thought he is posing until verses 18-19, and even then, it is a very brief answer: "It is good that you grasp this, and also not remove your hand from the other; for he who fears God will escape them all. Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city." The combination of the fear of God and wisdom, which is the fruit of vision, appear together as a solution.
Because the circumstances he posed will affect all, Solomon's advice is to keep on following wisdom. This is a precursor to the climax of the book where he says, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). It also foreshadows Romans 8:28, where Paul writes, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
In his terse statements, Solomon is saying, "Keep on following the revelation of God, for this is wisdom. The vision of His overall purpose is wisdom. It is an unerring guide through good and bad times. Always consider—see, discern—that an unseen Hand is involved in events, even those of our seemingly insignificant lives."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Two): Vision
A major lesson from Ecclesiastes is that the wisdom Solomon is promoting is indeed sagacity, but a narrow, intensely practical, spiritual sagacity. We have a tendency to think of wisdom as a quality possessed by those of higher educational levels, that is, it belongs to people who have achieved multiple university degrees, written some books, and sport a string of distinguishing letters after their names.
That distinction may suggest itself, but Solomon has something else in mind. Though such people may have rightly earned respect from their fellows, Solomon is concerned about day-to-day living regardless of who one is or what his station in life is. This implies that a measure of biblical wisdom is achievable by anybody whom God calls. Why? The source of this wisdom is God, who gives it as a gift to those who have a relationship with Him. Here we find the most useful applications of the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Though helpful to anyone, it is primarily intended for those already in a relationship with God.
The term sagacity, which entered English from Latin through French, suggests “quickness of perception,” “soundness in judgment,” and “farsightedness.” It pictures a mind that can cut through a situation's unimportant fluff or misdirecting false flags to grasp the essentials of a problem's solution. This is important for a Christian because Satan has filled the world with his clever deceptions.
A Christian must understand that the wise solution in life is always to submit humbly to God in faith. We are to do this despite the twisted reasoning the Devil can inject into our minds from a multitude of experiences in this Satan-devised, worldly system.
In the previous chapters, Solomon gives us real-life examples of circumstances that arise in the world that present us with sometimes-difficult choices. To our carnality, the foolish choice may often appear more attractive on the surface, but Solomon has been showing us in bold strokes what godly wisdom is and is not. He always makes clear what is and is not wise, and he does this most clearly in those chapters in which he makes direct comparisons: “This is better than that.” However, what may not appear at first glance is why this is better than that. Godly wisdom does not always initially appear to be the wiser, practical way, but it is always wiser despite common human opinion.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Ten): Paradox
These verses briefly examine one of the properties that wisdom and money share. The key word is “share.” Notice that the term “better” does not appear in the context. The reason is that wisdom is so superior to wealth that it derives no additional glory from it. If a person has both, that is of course good. However, if they are personified, one must conclude that wisdom could do better without wealth than wealth could do without wisdom.
The attribute that they share is the power to protect, to be a defense or a shade, as some translations say, against life's difficulties. Even in regard to this quality, the comparison reveals that wisdom is of greater value. The comparison shows that wisdom is like a wall of protection whereas wealth is merely a hedge. In adversity, wisdom provides reserves of strength to the person who possesses it. Wealth, though, continues to feed a person's self-importance and lusts, and so it may even be detrimental to progress.
What does Solomon mean by “Wisdom is good with an inheritance”? This translation is vague and difficult. In its translation, The Revised English Bible reinserts “better” into the thought: “Wisdom is better than possessions and an advantage to all who see the sun.” The NIV reads, “Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun.” The Jewish Soncino commentary makes two suggestions: “Wisdom is good when it is an inheritance” and “Wisdom is good when there is an inheritance together with it.” Solomon seems to be saying that, even as receiving a family inheritance is an advantage, so also is receiving family wisdom an advantage. It thus becomes an admonishment to young people to learn from their parents.
The Soncino commentary catches the essence of what Solomon is saying. Biblical wisdom always gives a person an advantage regardless of age, and the younger the person is when he begins using what he learned from his family the better.
The counsel in the last phrase of this verse—“Wisdom is . . . profitable to those who see the sun”—can be taken in two ways. “Those who see the sun” may be taken generally, including all humanity. But it may be directed specifically toward those who truly see God as part of their lives, that is, he refers to “over the sun,” converted people. In this way, verse 11 carries strong counsel to those who have God-given wisdom that enables them to “see” God. Such a person's wisdom imparts even better judgment for facing the difficulty of the times with a much steadier walk and broader, deeper sagacity.
At the same time, to be realistic, some events may affect our lives that neither wisdom nor wealth can protect us from, such as a national economic cataclysm or a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake that one cannot be physically prepared for. Except for those extraordinary situations, from what does wisdom defend a person? It protects individuals who have this wisdom derived from a relationship with God from the ordinary trials of the times, whatever their time in history.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense